Using Existing Data to Analyze and Plan your Urban Forest

Trees line a city street.

A new tool from OpenTreeMap allows communities to use existing sociodemographic and land-use data to make more informed planting decisions and estimate the future ecosystem benefits of those trees over a 30-year period.

Cities, non-profit organizations and other land-managing institutions face competing priorities when it comes to managing the urban forest. Many organizations want to incorporate data on urban heat island effect, air quality and population density into their planting decisions, but do not have the GIS expertise or data required to do so. With OpenTreeMap’s new modeling and prioritization tools, you can generate heat maps of optimal planting locations that are customized based on your selection criteria, and experiment with digitally planting trees of various species and sizes to model the growth and mortality rates of those trees.

We have included two data sets from the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) on tree canopy and impervious surface as well as additional data on population density, economics, and housing. In order to make the tool accessible to the widest audience, we only used data that is available in the continental U.S., does not have usage restrictions and has a level of geographic accuracy that makes it helpful in making planting decisions.

A screenshot of OpenTreeMap's prioritization tool.

OpenTreeMap allows you to prioritize your planting criterion by selecting custom weights. Shown here is a map created to identify optimal planting sites in Milwaukee based on population density, median household income and percent tree canopy coverage.

Your planting priorities may be dictated by other factors not yet included in the tool, which is why we can upload additional overlays to the map for you. For example, we can upload additional overlays with data on local zoning laws, soil quality, transit information, and funding restrictions. We can also upload higher resolution canopy and impervious surface data should it be available for your city or region.

We will incorporate additional information on health, water, temperature, wildfires and air pollution as it becomes available across the continental U.S. Unfortunately, much of the existing health data, including results from a recent study by the Nature Conservancy on the cooling and filtering effects of trees, is not geographically accurate enough to inform local planting decisions. That is to say data at the citywide or even zip code-level is not specific enough to help inform planting decisions at the neighborhood or street-level.

A screenshot demonstrating OpenTreeMap's modeling tool.

A sample tree-planting and the resulting ecosystem benefits projected over a 30-year period. We provide pre-set mortality rates based on tree species and size, that can be customization in the application.

A sample tree-planting and the resulting ecosystem benefits projected over a 30-year period. We provide pre-set mortality rates based on tree species and size, that can be customization in the application.

Once you’ve identified the optimal planting locations, you can model the outcome of your trees over time. Understanding tree growth and mortality rates can help inform management and allows you to demonstrate the long-term environmental and economic benefits of your tree plantings over a 30-year period.

We are in the final testing stages before making these tools available on the OpenTreeMap platform. Initially, the tool will only be available within the continental U.S., however, we plan to incorporate additional customization options including the ability to upload datasets to support groups outside the U.S.

In addition to OpenTreeMap, there are two other tools you use to help you prioritize plantings: iTree Landscape and the Trees and Health application. The U.S. Forest Service’s iTree Landscape helps you identify specific planting locations using land cover and census demographics, and explore existing canopy and ecosystem benefits. The Trees and Health application organized by Portland State University and the U.S. Forest Service includes data on neighborhood vulnerability as it relates to air quality in fourteen U.S. cities. You can use the application to identify planting locations that impact tree canopy and public health.

For additional information on the new forestry modeling and prioritization tools, we invite you to watch our recent webinar. The slides from this presentation can be found here.

Want to get in touch? We’d love to hear your questions and feedback: opentreemap@azavea.com.

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